The Boy From Oz is an enjoyable retrospective of the life and songs of Peter Allen—complete with well-known hits that range from ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ through to ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love’ and the crowd-pleasing ‘I Go To Rio.’ The Show is a 160-minute musical theatre romp through well-known easy-listening material that would be a challenge for any professional company, as Allen was clearly uniquely talented, and Hugh Jackman is not always going to be available to take on the role.
Allen was a trailblazer who was not only successful in his home country but also in America (aside from his Broadway flop, of course). The Australian singer/songwriter was a consummate performer, which means that the title role demands an actor who can sing and dance (and I mean dance, with tap-dancing and high-kicking on the agenda), and can also hold the audience during a number of direct monologues. I am sure that Shannon Foley (Peter Allen) will relax into the role, and get to enjoy the audience interactions, and portrayal of his relationship with Liza Minnelli (Natalie Lennox), a little more. ‘Easy listening’ is a deceptively difficult genre to master, and the opening numbers for both halves needed a little more vocal pizzazz and confidence. I have to admit to preferring Foley’s Jean Valjean to his Peter Allen—but was impressed by the ballads (and his vocal work in the ‘Only an Older Woman’ number with Wainwright), and must congratulate Foley on those impressive high-kicks.
Particularly memorable were the performances by Vanessa Wainwright (Judy Garland), Luke Devine (Greg Connell) and Aiden Huntly (Young Peter Allen). Wainwright’s Garland was a beautifully-observed, believable diva who absolutely ‘nailed’ her musical numbers. Huntley’s Young Peter was a charmingly enthusiastic pub-performer—portraying just the right amount of naivety, talent, and love for his Mum. And it’s just a pity that Devine’s role didn’t call for more solos, as his moment singing in the spotlight was poignant and moving.
Other key roles were also well-cast—in particular: Jacqui Cluny’s ‘Mum (Marion Woolnough) was suitably nurturing and funny, Zoe Costello’s Valerie Anthony was an entertaining cameo, and Natalie Lennox shone in her Liza Minnelli ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love.’
The Savoyards Creatives are a strong team. Many congratulations to Renee Allotta (Choreography) for some impressive choreography, and hats off to the hard-working dance ensemble (April Beak, Alanah Giles, Melissa James, Miranda James, Molly Brown, Izzy Smith, Natalie Cassaniti, Tatijana Wills, Kristan Ford, and Roh Whittaker). The high-energy television routine in the first half, and later Rockettes’ high-kicking number were superbly developed and executed.
The Boy From Oz also had great set design (congratulations to Charlotte Keen, Laurene Cooper-Fox, Zane C. Webber (and the crew involved with the development and construction of the scenery and set). I loved the press cuttings around the proscenium arch, and how the home, bar, set and dressing room areas were established around the stage. And of course the show had many of the marvellous costumes that we have come to anticipate from Savoyards Brisbane (costume design by Kim Heslewood & team). Artistic Director Miranda Selwood made excellent use of the whole stage, and (working with Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne, Assistant Musical Director Matthew Semple, and Assistant Director Julie Eisentrager) brought the best out of the whole cast—particularly during the ensemble pieces such as ‘Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on the Stage’ (ensemble: Shelley Quinn, Julianne Norris, Sheree Bryant, Kate Baxter, Anna Husband, Nicola Moriarty, Francesca Wright, Emma Windress, Joshua Thia, Alex Lamont, Nick Ferguson).
There were a few problems with sound levels on the opening night. The orchestra occasionally drowned out some of the leads, a few of the personal microphones seemed slow to ‘kick in’ at the start of some songs, and I wonder if there was a bit of a wireless black-spot in the family kitchen. The numbers opening both halves didn’t have quite the impact they needed (perhaps there were microphone problems for the lead ?). Small points that can be easily addressed.
Chookas to Savoyards Brisbane for the rest of the run. The opening night is behind you, so now it’s time to relax and have some fun with the show.
Verdict: A solid production, that reminds you of the story and success of a talented Boy from Oz.
Audience tip: 2 hours 40 minutes (including a 20-minute interval). All ages. 28 September-12 October 2019 (7:30pm performances on 28 September, and 5, 11, and 12 October. 1:30pm performances on 29 September, and 5, 6, 12 October). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. All seats appear to provide an excellent view.
The reviewer attended the Saturday 28 September 2019 Opening Night (7:30pm).
Photograph from the Audience: Picture Credit Creative Futures Photography